Council Tables Animal Care Vote

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After a nearly four-hour-long debate that attracted dozens of animal activists, the Berkeley City Council again postponed voting on a controversial spay-neuter ordinance Tuesday night.

Rather than voting on the entire Animal Care in Berkeley ordinance - a comprehensive plan to reinvent the city's animal policies - the council voted on some components of the measure and referred others to members of the city staff for preliminary drafting and fiscal analysis.

The council did, however, raise the licensing fee for unaltered dogs to $30 a year, twice the current fee.

They also approved transferring the management of the Berkeley Animal Shelter from the police department to a civilian staff and voted to adopt a "minimum-kill policy," which would attempt to lower the number of adoptable dogs and cats euthanized each year.

The meeting began with impassioned comments from members of the animal-loving public.

One speaker referred to opponents of the ordinance as "the inconvenience people."

"These residents are not friends for life - that would be inconvenient," said Gene Alward. "Passing this ordinance is the single most dramatic, most educational step you can take."

After the public comment period, council members Maudelle Shirek, Margaret Breland and Diane Woolley proposed an alternative measure that encompassed most of the animal-care measure, excluding the spay-neuter ordinance. During debate, council members said they objected to the lack of information on how much some features of the 2-page measure would cost.

"What is the financial cost to these two options?" said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. "We don't have a city manager analysis."

Worthington also described a scenario regarding a Berkeley resident who harbors and feeds up to 100 feral cats.

Woolley used the anecdote to justify her opposition to the ordinance.

"We're making a law that would say, no little old lady can feed a stray cat that comes in your yard and that if you want to feed a stray cat you have to be registered with the Berkeley Animal Shelter," Woolley said. "Yes, a spay-neuter ordinance is an important part of the measure, but coercive legislation could force people with limited income to give up their pets."

Councilmember Dona Spring, a member of the animal task force that drafted the measure, said she thought people were getting too worked up about the issue.

"People are overwhelmingly in favor of doing something to stop the flow of animals into the animal shelter," Spring said. "It is the sensible thing to do. I just can't believe people are objecting to $30 a year. If we raise the fees, it will mean we have more money coming into city coffers to subsidize those who cannot afford to spay or neuter their pets. If they can't afford $30 for the fee, they can't afford to have those litters of puppies and kittens."

Spring, who received a standing ovation from audience members at the conclusion of her comments, said the city needs to take action.

"We need to set an example for all children that we care for the life around us," she said.

Councilmember Betty Olds, also a member of the task force, urged the council to pass the measure at Tuesday's meeting.

"I hope this council has got the guts to face reality," Olds said. "We have to do something to control the population of dogs and cats in Berkeley. In fact, we have to do that throughout the world with people."

The Animal Kindness Resolution, which was an alternative option to the measure on the agenda, ultimately failed in a vote of 4-3 with two abstentions. The council then voted to adopt several features of the original measure, including the renaming of the shelter, asking the mayor to begin looking into private funding for building a new shelter and expanding volunteer and educational programs for pet owners.

In addition, the council voted to raise the licensing fee for unaltered dogs and to refer the remaining components of the measure, including the mandatory spay-neuter ordinance, to the city manager for drafting. The council is expected eventually to vote on the controversial ordinance.


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